Clinicians and researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman identify three universal factors that make or break relationships and predict whether couples will stay together happily or not. These factors are:
Staying curious about each other.
Sharing fondness and admiration.
Responding to bids for connection by turning toward, rather than turning away.
Their research is extensive. The Gottman's have studied more than 3,000 couples in their Love Lab over twenty years and over 40,000 couples before they started couples therapy.
Their findings are sound and align with common sense.
Who would argue about the importance of curiosity, fondness, and turning toward each other in relationships?
But even with factual, research-based evidence that is also common sense, many couples struggle to experience, nurture or even find these qualities in their relationships.
Clients often ask Angus and me, "Am I going to be able to feel love for my partner again? Is it possible for me to feel attracted to my partner again? How can I feel warm for my partner again?"
These questions come up because, as humans, we cannot control feelings and manufacture the desired sentiments even when we know in our hearts they are needed for our relationships to flourish. But we can't fake it.
The resentment, the judgment, the anger, the frustration, the repulsion, and the hopelessness can all feel too great to get over. Being able to rewild the love in the relationship can feel impossible, even when it is the couple's first choice. They love their partner. They care about their partner. They want to make the relationship work, but they don't know how.
You can try to be curious, show fondness, and turn toward your partner, but if your heart isn't in these behaviors, they are unsustainable and often fall flat.
What matters most is understanding these three key factors are normal and effortless for us when we are in our natural state of well-being. We don't have to work on being interested, kind, and warm. That is our design. We are made for connection, love, and intimacy.
What gets in the way of these behaviors is losing connection with ourselves.
Now I know many will tell me, "No, what gets in the way of the three factors that John and Julie Gottman have identified as necessary is my partner's behavior. It is their fill-in-the-blank:
Unwillingness to have sex
It is easy to blame our partner for our unhappiness. I have been there and lived that.
But what has actually changed since falling in love?
Of course, circumstances have changed, but is your partner that different? Or did the qualities you find endearing at the beginning of the relationship become infuriating later on?
That happened to me. I loved Angus's happy-go-lucky free-spirited nature until I judged him as irresponsible.
And, I am not attached to people staying in relationships. I don't think that relationship longevity is a sign of relationship success. I recently saw Instagram Influencer Blair Imani's (@blairimani) wedding post that said, "Not 'until death does us part,' but until or unless we determine that our flourishing would be more greatly enhanced through dissolution." I love the sentiment.
My commitment is to awakening and living in alignment with the wisdom and love within me. If my marriage were no longer to align with that, I hope I would have the courage to dissolve the union.
Angus and I don't help people stay together. Instead, we help people rewild the love within their hearts so they can stay true to themselves. Often that allows them to fall in love with their partner again, but sometimes it gives them the clarity they need to move on. And I am not suggesting that anyone sacrifice themselves to try and make an unhealthy relationship work.
Most couples Angus and I work with don't have unhealthy relationships. Instead, they have unhappy relationships that they don't know how to make work. They don't know how to be curious, kind, and responsive in a genuine way because they are unhappy and feeling frustrated. They don't know how to fabricate or manufacture the feelings they wish were there because they want to be together; they just don't know how to stay together and be happy.
So we look at what is behind the critical behaviors for a happy relationship. First, we see loving behaviors as by-products of the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of the individuals in the relationship.
Rewilding love doesn't start with rewilding the romantic love between people. It starts with rewilding the impersonal love that lies within ourselves. It begins with having a deeper relationship with who we truly are. It requires an intimacy with our true nature that brings us alive within ourselves.
Connecting with ourselves is simple. It is coming home to who we are. We do this by not identifying with the misunderstandings and limiting beliefs that keep us caught up and create suffering. Instead, it is remembering what is true so we don't look outside ourselves for happiness.
There is not one way to do this. Every spiritual tradition offers a path. We must find our way to remember who we are and break free from the limitations in our minds that create suffering within ourselves. Then when we are freer inwardly, we can see with greater clarity. It then no longer makes sense to blame someone else for our suffering because we know the source of our suffering is in our relationship with ourselves.
When I used to blame Angus for my unhappiness, I was convinced he needed to change for me to be happy, but he was never actually responsible for my suffering. Even in his imperfect moments when he wasn't kind, he still wasn't responsible for my suffering. I was the one causing my pain through my self-judgments, self-criticisms, and lack of remembering who I was. He did not victimize me. I was distressed by the limitations in my consciousness where I could not see my innate value and lovability. My pain did not come from him. It came from the distortions within my belief systems. But, of course, I didn't know that at the time. That is why it looked to me like he was the cause of my suffering.
But I needed to be rewilded and reminded of who I am. I needed to experience the infinite love that lies within me and to experience the depth of peace that emanates from that knowing.
That rewilding resourced me and refreshed me so that I could see him and my relationship with new eyes. I could no longer feel like a victim because I knew I couldn't be one even if someone treated me in such a way that I was the victim of their behavior. I could no longer see myself as a victim of another.
I am not condoning abusive behavior. It is not acceptable.
What I am pointing to is the empowerment that lies within. We can choose to walk away from the people and the situations that aren't aligned with our true nature.
Rewilding allows us to see our relationship with fresh eyes of love. Whether this means the relationship will be at a new beginning or an end is not what is essential. Instead, what matters is knowing that rewilding comes from within. From there, you will naturally and effortlessly be able to show up in a loving way with your partner that includes curiosity, wonder, fondness, admiration, and opening up to more profound expressions of love.
Whether that be the beginning or the end of the relationship, the journey starts within. The love in our intimate relationships reflects the depth of knowing of the impersonal love that is who we are. Then we get to decide whether or not we want to stay together.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In the first season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couple's intensive retreat programs that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilders Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.